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Challenges to the Attainment of Work-life Balance

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Published: Wed, 10 Jan 2018

The purpose of this paper is to review the recent literature on the recent state of theoretical and practical issues affecting the attainment of work-life balance within organizations. It also challenges some of the metaphorical assumptions associated with work/life balance. The balance between work and life is becoming an important strategic component in the Human Resource Management arena. Hence, to successfully maintain key human resource functions such as attracting and retaining talented staff within the organization, policies should be focused towards endorsing work-life balance.

Introduction

For the past ten years there has been increasing interest in work-life balance and has drafted innumerable attention from popular presses and scholarly journals. This increase in attention is in part ambitious by recent concerns stipulating that an imbalanced work/life relationship can reduce the health of individuals resulting in lower work performance and can have negative impacts on family life.

The concept of “work/life” balance began to emerge in the 1980’s and 1990’s where companies first started to offer work/life programs. While the first effect of these programs were mainly to sustain women with children. Theses included maternity leave, home-based work, flex-time, employee assistance programs (EAPs) and child-care referral. During the 1980s men also began voicing work-life concerns. However, today’s work/life programs are less gender-specific and recognize other commitments as well as those of the family.

The issue of work/life balance began to emerge to the forefront of research and organizations when Rosabeth Moss Kanter revealed the phenomena in her influential book “Work and Family in the United States: A Critical Review and Agenda for Research and Policy (1977).”. However, the term ‘work-life balance’ was first coined in 1986 in reaction to the unhealthy choices that many Americans were making in favor of the work place, as they opted to neglect family, friends and leisure activities in the pursuit of corporate goals. The articles published at that time suggested a sharp increase in the working hours of the Americans and this had started to affect their families and individual heath. Work life balance then slowly started gaining grounds in the various organizations. By the end of the decade, work-life balance was seen as more than just a women’s issue, affecting men, families, organizations and cultures. Since, then it has developed in to a multidimensional facet with factors affecting the both the individual and is critical for organizational success.

It is formidable to note that the term ‘work/life balance’ is widely but an official definition of this term still remains indefinable. Even though there are many conceptualizations of work-family balance occurring in recent literature, a direct developed measure of the construct does not exist. This unreliable measure of work-family balance undermines the ability to fully explore the rudimentary facets of this phenomenon. However, this negatively impacts investigations into the policies with respect to individual and organizational outcome variables.

Within organizations and corporations there is increasing attention among organizational stakeholders (management, executive directors, owners etc.) for the introduction of work/life balance policies. This has become a predominant issue within the workplace. Many organizations have implemented proficient polices and programs with the objective of improving employee experiences of work-life balance. In the absence of a well developed measure of work-family balance, assessing impact of such interventions empirically becomes problematic. However, there is the need to fully understand and find an effective measure of work/life balance. This allows human resource practitioners to employ a proactive approach towards seeking innovative ways to augment their organization’s competitive advantage. It will also aid in finding a balance between challenges of the work/life dilemma and recommend complimentary solutions. In attempting to find an effective measure of balance, the organization would then be capable of assessing the impact of the policies created on employee discernment of balance. This can also promote inter-organizational assessment of the levels of perceived work-life balance which can provide useful information to organizational stakeholders for policy drafting.

Definition of Work Life Balance

Work/life balance can be defined as “the absence of unacceptable levels of conflict between work and non-work demands” Greenblatt(2002). It incorporates the achievement of a reasonable level of involvement among the various roles in the lives of individuals and assesses their ability to deal with simultaneously with the complex demands of life. There are various definitions of work/life balance that is commonly associated with an equilibrium or sustenance of a sense of harmony in life. However, the meaning can take on different characteristics as it can mean different things to different groups. For example, work/life balance is different within different stages of life every individual experiences. An individual who has recently graduated from university and is not married would have a different conception of work-life balance compared with an individual who may be married and has responsibility to their spouse and children. Johnson (2005) suggests that one’s perception of work-life balance is dependent on the individual’s environment, age and lifestyle. Another important consideration is the level of conflict between work and family spheres especially when there is role conflict (Kossek and Lambert 2005). Furthermore, the job requirements of the individual in the workplace would often hamper with their family life responsibilities. (Williams 2008).

The meaning is dependent on the circumstances of the discussion and the researcher’s viewpoint. There are some acceptable definitions regarding work/life balance and some definitions may overlap and some are evolving which are discussed further.

The Traditional view of work/life balance

The traditional view of work/life balance assumes that it involves the commitment of equivalent quantity of time to paid work and non-work roles. There are generally five major perspectives used to explain the correlation between work and life stipulated by Zedeck and Mosier (1990) and O’Driscoll (1996). The first perspective is the segmentation model which theorizes that work and non-work are both independent domains of life that are separate and have no influence on the other.  This appears to be offered as a theoretical possibility rather than a model with empirical support.  The spillover model is the complete opposite of the segmentation model hypothesizes that both spheres are interdependent on each other either in a positive or negative way.  The research into this sphere can support its proposition however it is deemed having little value as it is too general.  This standpoint needs a more meticulous proposal about the causes, nature and effects of spillover. The other models examined are more detailed adaptations of the spillover model. The third model is the compensation model which states that the demands or satisfactions that is lacking in one sphere can be made up in the other.  For example, work may be routine and undemanding but this is compensated for by a major role in local community activities outside work.  The other model is an instrumental model whereby an activity in one sphere accentuates the other sphere.  The traditional example is the instrumental worker who will seek to maximize earnings, even at the price of undertaking a routine job and working long hours, to allow the purchase of a home or a car for a young family.  The final model is a conflict model which states that each sphere has multiple demands, thus requiring individuals to prioritize and make choices that can lead to conflict.

The contemporary view of work/life balance

The contemporary view stipulates that the concept is recognized to be more complex and a number of different issues are to be incorporate. Contemporary studies have explored and measured six aspects of work/life balance that can provide a valuable construct for theoretical advancement and practical human resource interventions. The framework consist of six conceptualizations of work-life balance found in recent literature are as follows multiple roles, equity across multiple roles, satisfaction between multiple roles, fulfillment of role salience between multiple roles, a relationship between conflict and facilitation and perceived control between multiple roles.

Work-life balance defined as multiple roles

This view is drawn from an individual’s multiple life roles which stipulate that the non work (personal/ family) demands are spilled over into the working day of the individual that negatively affects the health and work performance of the individual. This can be referred to as a multiple demand ‘carry over’ which is referred by Greenhaus and Beutell (1985) as bidirectional, denoting home-to-work and work-to-home spillover. It is now accepted that there are positive as well as negative carry over with recent research identifying the bidirectional constructs of work-family facilitation and enhancement, as well as conflict. Within recent works Greenhaus and contemporaries have defined the multiple role conflict of work/life balance generally as ‘Work-family balance reflects an individual’s orientation across different life roles, an inter-role phenomenon’ (Greenhaus, Collins & Shaw 2003).

Work-life balance defined as equity across multiple roles

The multiple roles definition of work-life balance as further examined by Greenhaus that explored with further focus on the fulfillment across an individual’s multiple life roles or the equality of time. Work-family balance was therefore defined as “the extent to which an individual is engaged in and equally satisfied with his or her work role and family role. There are three components of work family-balance that are time balance, involvement balance, and satisfaction balance” (Greenhaus, Collins & Shaw 2003). Time balance refers to an equal amount of time devoted to work and family roles and involvement balance refers to an equal level of psychological involvement in work and family roles. Satisfaction balance stipulates that there is an equal level of satisfaction with work and family roles. The individual components of work/life balance can represent either a positive balance or negative balance depending on the levels of time, involvement, or satisfaction which are equally high or equally low.

However, the work/life balance can be viewed a continuum anchored that is skewed to one end by disparities in favor of a certain role (family, personal roles). It can also be relatively balanced state to extensive imbalance in favor of the other role (work). Work/life balance can be conceptualized as an independent variable of an individual’s desires or values. Bielby and Bielby (1989) observed that married working women may emphasize their family ”in balancing work and family identities” and Lambert (1990) discussed ”maintaining a particular balance between work and home”. The term balance here is used to represent an array of diverse patterns of dedication, rather than parity of dedications across roles. It can be inferred that an individual who gives extra priority to one role than the other is relatively imbalanced even if the distribution of commitment to family and work is highly consistent with what the individual wants or values. This conjures the controversial question whether such imbalance in favor of one role is healthy or not.

Work-life balance defined as satisfaction between multiple roles

Kirchmeyer research have focused on the importance of individual satisfaction with multiple roles defined work-life balance as ‘achieving satisfying experiences in all life domains and to do so requires personal resources such as energy, time, and commitment to be well distributed across domains’ (Kirchmeyer 2000). Clark (2000) also focused on individual satisfaction within the description of ‘work/family border theory’ and defined work-life balance as ‘satisfaction and good functioning at work and at home with a minimum of role conflict’ (Clark 2000).

Work-life balance defined as a fulfillment between multiple roles

This aspect focuses on the individual satisfaction where there is an overlap with the acknowledgment an individual’s perspective the multiple roles in relation to its importance. This point of view recognizes that the salience of roles is also not a static evaluation but may change over time with diverse familiar life changes such as work promotion, new baby, sick spouse or parents etc. Greenhaus and Allen then defined work-life balance as ‘the extent to which an individual’s effectiveness and satisfaction in work and family roles are compatible with the individuals’ life role priorities at a given point in time’. Similarly, work and life balance research should focus on ‘whether one’s expectations about work and family roles are met or not’. Eby, Casper, Lockwood, Bordeaux and Brinley (2005).

Work/life balance defined as a relationship between conflict and facilitation

Recent research has revealed the psychosomatic constructs that map work-life balance, noticeably conflict and facilitation. Consequently, work-life balance is been defined as an absence of conflict and a presence of facilitation where “low levels of inter-role conflict and high levels of inter-role facilitation represent work-family balance” (Frone 2003). The assessment of the four bidirectional conflict and facilitation constructs can be used as a framework to test this definition: ‘Balance is a combined measure whereby work-family conflict was subtracted from work-family facilitation, and family- work conflict was subtracted from family-work facilitation’ (Grzywacz & Bass 2003).

Work-life balance defined as an apparent control among multiple roles

This aspect is the least supported within the research literature. It states that work-life balance can be interpreted as a degree of independence where an individual perceives themselves having control over their multiple role demands. Fleetwood states that “Work-life balance is about people having a measure of control over when, where and how they work” (Fleetwood 2007). Apparently, work-life balance can also be seen as a result of individual sovereignty over the roles most salient to the individual. Therefore, an individual could reduce their work hours to spend time with for example their children which can be perceived as effective work-life balance.

Finding a balanced work/life measure

The brief review of the literature denotes that there has been limited systematic effort to clearly develop one clear definition or one specific measure of work-life balance. It is important to work towards a consensus of the precise meaning of work-life balance. With the emergence of a specific definition of work-life balance, it would foster decisive outcome variables to authenticate the contemporary theoretical models that describe the relationship among common moderators, outcome variables and the background of work-life balance. This would ensure that a detailed measure of work-life balance could also be used to contrast the levels of perceived balance among the levels within an organization. This would be significant for comparisons among the levels of balance among organizations. It would incorporate questioning employees to rate their present discernment of work-life balance to avidly create an effective measure of balance. The development of a systematic scale would also be necessary to sufficiently authenticate such a measure.

The review of the literature reveals that is difficult in capturing a simple holistic measure of the meaning of work-life balance. A basis for recognizing the common threads of meaning can develop using the six definitions of work-life balance previously reviewed. Some definitions consist of the concept of ‘perceptions of good balance’ as imperative to the significance of work-life balance. The realization that levels of work-life balance can change over time according to the salience of specific life events is also important to note. This would acknowledge the repeated readjustment to several demands that most employees cope with over their period of employment.

An integration of the two core meanings or definition of work-life balance can equate the following definition, “Work-life balance is the individual perception that work and non-work activities are compatible and promote growth in accordance with an individual’s current life priorities” (Kalliath 2008). The literature proposed that any appraisal of work-life balance should include individual preferences of current roles. This definition further acknowledges that an effectual balance would lead to positive improvement within the work and non-work spheres. Consequently an individual’s work/life precedence can be voluntarily changed to incorporate the development of non-work activities (eg new baby, travel vacations) or growth at work (working harder to gain a promotion). This definition of work-life balance has to be operational within the context to measure validation and development across variant samples.

Theoretical Framework: Work-Family Border Theory (Clark, 2000)

The theoretical framework employed to understand the balance between work and life is the Work-Family Border Theory. The work-family border theory (Clark, 2000) and boundary theory (Ashforth, 2000) each contribute to the study of work-family connection by depicting the circumstances under which changeable degrees of work-family integration are likely to positively or negatively affect an individual’s well-being. These theories deals with how people build, preserve, negotiate and cross boundaries. It shows how people depict the lines between work and family (Clark, 2000).

In both theories are similar by an incorporation or segmentation as indicated primarily by displaying characteristics of flexibility and permeability. It is suggested that both are integrate evident when two or more spheres are highly flexible and permeable with respect to one another. The Boundary theory and work-family border theory are common with respect to the extent of work-family integration depending on similarities among these domains with each other (Desrochers & Sargeant, 2004). However, the two theories diverge on the nature of the relationship and implications for work-family balance.

The difference among roles is the determination of the clarity of how substantial the boundary is between one domain and another that consequently influences the possibility of work-family conflict Ashforth (2000). (Desrochers 2005). This theory has a propensity to focus on transitions within an organizational context Matthews (2007). Even though, reference is made to conversion between organizational roles and non-organizational roles (conversion between work roles and family roles), Clark (2000) states that the transparency of the work-family border is distinguished from the correspondence of role domains in which these two factors interact to influence work-family balance. Matthews (2007) states that this theory is mainly focused on the approach of people transitions between the work and family domains.

The Work-family border theory denotes how individuals negotiate and control both the borders between work and family spheres and try to find a balance between them (Clark, 2000). The design of this theory is focused on finding a framework to undermine the criticism and gaps of previous theories on work and family (Akdere, 2006) by dividing the boundaries within the employees’ life. The theory seeks to deal with how the segmentation and incorporation, management and border creation and border crossers have on the relationships of work and home factors influence on work-family balance. The term “border-crossers” are referred to employees that are intending on making constant daily alterations between their work and family lives.

The distinguishing factor between Work-family border theory and boundary theory in that its definition of borders not only encompasses psychological categories but also the substantial boundaries that divide place, people and time that is associated with work versus family spheres (Desrochers 2005). However, Clark (2000) research tries to comprehend the progression of work-family conflict. The earlier approaches were inadequate as they lacked predictive ability and offered modest direction in either forecasting work-family conflict or solving problems that arise from trying to find a balance between work and family responsibilities (Clark, 2000).

Not all individuals are characterized engage in this transition of border-crossing as the language and customs are highly alike within both spheres. Within work domain the language and behavior that is expected are diverse from the expectation within the family domain and consequently a more extreme transition is required. The underlying concept of work-family balance theory refers to “satisfaction and good functioning at work and at home, with a minimum of role conflict” (Clark, 2000). The foundation of this theory is built upon the roles between spheres and has the possibility for further clarification on the work and family conflict processes between the family and the workplace (Bellavia & Frone, 2005). The fundamental concepts of the work-family border theory are the work and home domains, the borders between work and home, the border-crosser with other important domain members.

The Work and Home Domains

The work and home are regarded by Clark as being two different domains that has differential behavior rules, and thought patterns. The differentiation among the work and home domains can be classified in two distinct groups that are the differences in value ends and differences in value means (Rokeach, 1973 as cited in Clark, 2000). The Work primarily deals with satisfying the means and ends of providing an income and giving a sense of accomplishment, while home life satisfies the ends of attaining close personal relationships. Within the work sphere the desired ends of responsibility and capability were ranked as the most important whereas the life aspect the desired ends of loving and giving were ranked the most significant means in achieving happiness in the home (Clark 2000). Due to the differentiation in spheres, individuals often find a balance that assimilates both work and life to some degree (Clark, 2000). With respect to the way in which individuals deal with differences of the two domains can be explained on a continuum with one end being integration and segmentation on the other Nippert-Eng (1996).

The Borders between Work and Family

Within the context of the border theory, an individual’s role takes place in a detailed sphere of life and these domains are distinguished by borders that demarcate from either being psychological, chronological, or physical (Clark 2000). The physical borders define where domain or behavior takes place regarding to the workplace or within the home (Clark 2000). Within the research frameworks, the literature is geared towards more controlling and setting time schedules in examining the role conflict boundaries, however less consideration is given to space Ahrentzen (1990). The temporal border refers the time in which work is finished and when responsibilities of the family initiate (Hill 1998). The psychological borders refers to the rules an individual creates that dictate their emotions, behavior patterns and thinking patterns which are appropriate within a specific domain such as work but not family life (Clark, 2000). Psychological borders are used by individuals to identify the rules that create the physical and temporal borders. It is created as an endorsement which “a process in which individuals takes elements given in their environments and organizes them in a way that makes sense” (Clark 2000).

Work-Family Conflict

The various predictors of work/family conflict can be grouped into two general categories role environment and personality. The Role environment consist of several types of role related predictors of work/family conflict such as behavioral involvement, psychological involvement, role-related stressors and affect, and role related resources.

Behavioral involvement represents the amount of time devoted to work and family roles. As more time is devoted to one role, it would be expected that less time would be available to meet the demands of another role. Consistent with this notion, a number of studies have found that the time devoted to family activities and chores is positively related to levels of family to work conflict, whereas the time devoted to work is positively related to levels of work to family conflict.

Work and family stressors, dissatisfaction, and distress have been examined as potential causes of work-family conflict. It is generally hypothesized that role characteristics can produce role-related dissatisfaction or distress, which may lead to cognitive preoccupation with the source of the distress or to reduced levels of psychological and physical energy. The resulting increase in cognitive preoccupation or reduction in energy can undermine an individual’s ability or willingness to meet the obligations of other roles (Frone, Yardley, 1997). Consistent with this line of reasoning, past research has found that work demands, work-role conflict, work role ambiguity, and job distress or dissatisfaction are positively related to reports of work/life balance conflict.

Work and family social support have been explored as potential resources that reduced work-family conflict. For example, a supportive supervisor may not make excessive demands that would cause an employee to work at home. Likewise, a supportive spouse or other family member may provide direct assistance with demands at home, thereby reducing the likelihood that an individual is preoccupied with these problems at work. Past research has found that higher levels of social support at work are related to lower levels of work-to-family conflict, whereas higher levels of social support at home are related to lower levels of family-to-work conflict (Adams, 1996).

Personality. Although most research has explored role characteristics as potential causes of work-family conflict, a few studies have begun to examine personality dispositions as causes of work-family conflict. Various personality characteristics, such as mastery, hardiness, positive affectivity, and extraversion may be conceived of as individual resources in that they capture a tendency to actively cope with problems at work and home, thereby reducing the likelihood of work-family conflict. Other personality variables, such as negative affectivity and neuroticism, may be conceived of as individual deficits in that they capture a tendency to avoid problems at work and home, thereby increasing the likelihood of work-family conflict.

Several recent studies have found that high levels of hardiness, extraversion, and self-esteem were associated with lower levels of both work-tofamily and family-to-work conflict (Bernas & Major, 2000; Grandey & Cropanzano, 1999; Grzywacz & Marks, 2000). One study reported that high levels of neuroticism were associated with higher levels of both work-tofamily and family-to-work conflict (Grzywacz & Marks, 2000).

Managing the boundary between the work and family spheres

The review of the literature have show that little studies have examined an individual’s perception within the boundaries of work and family roles (Nippert-Eng 1996). The analysis of borders can elucidate the extent in which individuals can control the issues determining work and family balance (Guest 2002). This allows for the analysis of physical and psychological controls, an examination of the nature of border permeability and the extent in which they can be managed or moved. This is consistent with the centrality of the issue where individuals perceive the parameters of work and family activities, which create personal meaning and the management of relationships among families and work Zedeck (1992). Kirchmeyer (2000) views living a balanced life as reaching a level that satisfies experiences within all life domains and requires individual resources such as commitment, energy and time to be well distributed across domains. Similarly, Clark indicates that work and family balance is a satisfaction and good functioning of roles at work and at home with least role conflict (Clark, 2000). Furthermore, another definition of balance stipulates that a balanced life is productive, healthy and satisfying including facets of love, play and work (Kofodimos 1993).These definitions of balance share two important elements. There is the notion of equality, or near-equality, between experiences in the work role and experiences in the family role (Reiter, 2007). Clark (2000) and Kirchmeyer (2000) imply similarly high levels of satisfaction, health, functioning and efficiency across the various roles. Furthermore, the definitions of work and family balance implicitly consider two constructs of equality that are inputs and outcomes. The inputs are the personal resources (Kirchmeyer, 2000) that are applied to each role. Kirchmeyer (2000) states that balance within work and family requires that each role be approached with approximately an equal level of involvement, time, commitment or attention. The balance achieved can either be negative or positive. A positive balance refers to an equal amount of attention, time, involvement, or commitment, whereas negative balance refers to an equally low level among these inputs. These inputs determine an individual’s level of role commitment in accordance with the time dedicated or psychological involvement in each role. There is difficulty in determining an individual who is substantially balanced as being more betrothed in the work role than in the family role. The other component of balance is the resultant outcomes that are experienced in work and family roles. A frequent outcome included in definitions of balance is satisfaction (Kirchmeyer 2000; Clark2000).

The relationship between work/life balance and quality of life

The balance between work and life is denoted to promote well-being. It is suggested that an imbalance in work will stimulate high levels of stress, cause a reduction in the quality of life and diminish an individual’s job performance (Kofodimos 1993). Within an organization the promotion of work/life balance can be promoted by an organizational change approach proposed by Hall (1990). This organizational change can take effect, by companies and individuals considering the advice given by literary publications providing on how to promote a greater balance in life (Cummings 2001; Fisher 2001).

However, the question arises on how work/life balance can enhance an individual’s quality of life. With respect to individuals, multiple roles can protect and create a buffer from the effects of negative experiences in any one role in an individual’s life (Barnett & Hyde, 2001). Work/life balance not only produces this buffering effect but can directly promote well being. Marks and MacDermid (1996) states that individuals who are believed to have a balanced life are deemed ”primed to seize the moment” when they meet a role demand since one role is seen no less than the other. Within this way of thinking individuals who are perceived to have balance experience lower levels of stress when enacting roles due to the assumption that they are participating in role activities that are salient to them. It is evident that individuals that have a balance have experienced less role overload and less depression compared to individuals that were deemed imbalanced MacDermid (1996).

Furthermore, when an individual has a


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